North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned about possible food shortages and called for his people to brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions as he opened a major political conference to discuss national efforts to salvage a broken economy, the AP reports. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also said Wednesday that Kim called for discussions on how the North should deal with the “current international situation,” though it did not mention any specific comments from Kim about the United States or South Korea. North Korea has so far ignored the allies’ calls to resume nuclear negotiations that have stalled for two years following the collapse of Kim’s ambitious summitry with former President Trump, which derailed over disagreements in exchanging relief from crippling US-led sanctions with denuclearization steps by the North.
Meanwhile, the North’s economy has decayed further amid pandemic border closures, which choked off trade with China, while devastating typhoons and floods last summer decimated crops. The Korea Development Institute, a South Korean government think tank, said last month the North could face food shortages of around a million tons this year. During the plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee that opened Tuesday, Kim urged officials to find ways to boost agricultural production, saying the country’s food situation "is now getting tense.” KCNA said Kim also “set forth the tasks for the state to maintain perfect anti-epidemic state”—indicating North Korea would extend its pandemic lockdown despite the stress on its economy. (Kim is also looking much thinner lately, fueling yet more speculation about his health.)